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6 Belgian microbreweries you should know

18:18 18/06/2015
A short list of small breweries making big changes to the Belgian beer scene.

We all know that Belgium is full of good beer. It’s one of the few facts that most people abroad will be able to tell you about our small country. But look around today and you’ll see that the world is full of good beer.

These days, everyone with some hops and a bucket seems to be making their own beer and the trend of small, craft brewing has become truly a global phenomenon. This means previously un-beer-savvy countries like the United States, Mexico, Italy and New Zealand,  are giving countries like Belgium and Germany a run for their money in coming up with innovative, tasty new brews.

But Belgium is not about to be left in the dust. It's burgeoning with small breweries, or microbreweries, that forsake enormous production for precision, experimentation and good craftsmanship.

I talked to Antoine Pierson at Malt Attacks specialty beer shop in Saint Gilles and he gave me a quick run down of some of the best new and small brewers you might not have tried yet.

1. Mad Yeast

Technically, Mad Yeast shouldn’t make it onto the list because they emphatically state on their website that they are not a brewery. Instead, Denis Martin and Maxime Libouton, the two men behind the bottle, call themselves “gypsy brewers” – they design the recipes but the actual brewing is done by Brouwerij Anders! near the Flemish town of Diest.

Brewery or no, these two make two great beers, the Mad Saison and Triple Mad. No vanity beers, both of these brews are painstakingly crafted, combining the best of Belgian tradition with the innovation of the global craft beer movement.

2. Beer Project

Last year, a new tulip glass began to fill the terrace tables of Brussels. The size of a beer glass with the elegance of a wine glass, its oddly geometric angles attracted attention amongst its more curvaceous tablemates.

These belonged to the Beer Project, a microbrewery that appeared on the scene in 2013, started up thanks to a crowdfunding initiative. Like Mad Yeast, up till now they too have had Anders! brewery their beers.

However, wide success has allowed them to build their own brewery,  a 500-square-metre space in the Rue Antoine Dansaert opening this summer. It will be a place of experimentation, making all types of atypical beers. The best ones will be selected and brewed in larger quantities at Anders!.

Their best known beer, the Delta IPA is good, but Pierson at Malt Attacks says their stand out beer is the Dark Sister, a black IPA that packs a punch despite a relatively low alcohol content.

3. Brasserie de Blaugies

On one end of microbrewing you have the Beer Project and Mad Yeast,  experimental, precisely engineered examples of the trendy new world craft brewing.

On the other end you get Brasserie de Blaughies. No fancy website, no custom glass design. Just 30 years of a small family operation making outstanding traditional Belgian beers.

You may never have heard of it, but Pierson says they shouldn’t be missed. “It’s underrated, but for me it’s one of the best beers in Belgium.”

The bottle to start with a 75cl Saison d'Epeautre, wheaty and musty like a cellar, it’s everything you want in a saison. Then try their Vermontoise, a collaboration with American brewery Vermont Hill Farmstead. It’s the same as the saison but made with American hops – perfect for a summer’s day of comparison shopping.

4. Tilquin

Gueuze is considered one of the few products that are unique to the Brussels region. Which is why it was a pretty big deal when 6 years ago Tilquin became the first gueuze blender in Wallonia, though just barely (the brewery lies only 200 metres from the regional border).

Not a brewery but a blendery, Tilquin loses no authenticity by being placed outside the Brussels region, as it buys its worts from Brussels breweries, such as Cantillon, blending them and fermenting them for up to three years.

It has a small line, only three beers. But Tilquin gets a lot of praise for the quality and originiality of its two fruit lambics, the Quetsche and the Müre, which forsake the traditional cherries or raspberries for plums and blackberries, respectively.

Also interesting is their RullQuin, a stout-gueuze blend made in collaboration with Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles, another fantastic small brewer. While it may sound like a strange combination, Pierson insists that it’s worth a taste. “It’s like a dark gueuze,” he said.

5. De Dochter van de Korenaar

One of the few criticisms one can have about Belgian brewing culture is that sometimes it’s just a bit too Belgian. While the rest of the world is going crazy experimenting with all styles and blends of beers, coming up brand new tastes, Belgian brewers can have trouble stepping outside their strong tradition of brewing excellence.

Not De Dochter van de Korenaar. Maybe it’s their odd location: the brewery stands in one of the tiny enclaves of Belgium lying just over the border entirely surrounded by The Netherlands, a socio-geographical oddity of the Second World War.

Regardless, the Dochter van Korenaar has always been open to international brewing styles, including American-style brews like their outstanding IPA and double IPA. According to Pierson, they are the best in Belgium for these kinds of beers.

6. Brasserie de la Senne

Brasserie de la Senne is a small brewery with a big name around town. Over the last years, the two-brewer operation based in Molenbeek has become an emblem of craft brewing in Brussels. 

They following traditional Belgian brewing methods, but manage to come up with unique products that stand out amongst a long line of triples, blonds and browns.

Their regular line up is made up of some five brews, including their most well known beers: the bitter, malty Zinnebeer and the fruity Jambe-de-Bois triple. Although they also deserve praise for their Brusseleir, called a “zwët IPA” – “zwët” means “black” in the Brussels dialect – and is a hoppy brown ale with a rich, chocolaty taste.

Malt Attacks, Ave. Jean Volders 18, 1060 Saint Gilles

Photo © Katy Desmond

Written by Katy Faye Desmond